Hidden freshwater dive zones are around every corner and no place does this hold true, better than in England.
Offering a change up from typical run-of-the-mill ocean diving, inland diving is a nice way to shake down your diving routine. Lakes, quarries, and quays boast new environments, new diving conditions and most importantly new things to see while underwater.
Vobster Quay is a freshwater dive site located in the Somerset countryside, just outside the towns of Frome and Radstock.
Dubbed as one of the friendliest inland dive centers of the region, Vobster consists of 36-acres of freshwater diving in depths ranging from 6 to 36 meters (20 to 118 feet). The dive site is fed from an underground spring and the surface temperature, visibility and lake conditions are measured on a daily basis. Divers of all different skill levels will find a healthy mix of underwater attractions, freshwater wildlife and support services that are hard to resist.
On top of being an inland dive facility, Vobster also has something to offer triathletes and open water swimmers as well. A measured and marked 750 meter swim course is located at the surface of the quay to enhance and improve swim training. Vobster also offers facilities, coaching and support services to athletes looking to up their game.
We decided to dive Vobster Quay on a Monday, to avoid the weekend crowds of divers and swimmers.
Our arrival at the Quay was seemingly flawless until the last kilometer of dirt road where we opted to follow our GPS instead of the small Vobster Quay signs – BIG MISTAKE. After navigating through the maze of trees and dead ends we finally found our way to the inland facilities parking lot.
As with any private dive site, we made our way into the small building, to the registration desk/dive shop. Once we’d filled in all the necessary paperwork we received our Vobster entry bracelets, rental tanks and weights. The shop attendant, then gave us a brief site orientation, highlighting the favorite underwater attractions, before sending us on our merry dive way!
Drysuit on, camera gear at the ready, it was soon time to giant stride into the depths of Vobster Quay! The water was cold, relatively clear and an exotic shade of green, likely from a summer plankton bloom.
Beneath the lake waters, there was a fabulous assortment of attractions ranging from very shallow to advanced diver deep. Thankfully the maximum depth bottomed out at 66 meters (118 feet) meaning that we didn’t need to worry about exceeding our recreational diving limit we just needed to watch our bottom time.
We started out our dive in the deep part of the lake – at the sunken helicopter. Following the appropriate marker buoy to the bottom, we found the Westland WS-61 Sea King helicopter on the muddy lakebed, sitting just out of reach for Open Water Divers.
Formerly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, this helicopter has seen service across the globe including in Afghanistan, the Falklands and both Gulf wars.
As we circled the chopper for a good look at this metallic beast, we were very careful with our finning as to not disturb the silt on the bottom of the quay. But this task proved difficult because even the smallest of movement sent a backscatter of dust into the water column.
After our deep visit to the military helicopter came, to my delight, the aircraft – I’m a sucker for planes underwater!
The Hawker Siddley HS-748 aircraft was donated by the Exeter Airport, and is split into three separate segments; the cockpit, midsection, and tail. The different sections of the airplane are found at a depth of 12 meters (40 feet).
Much of the cabling on this commercial plane has been removed for safety, however, there is still a healthy amount of protruding metal and sharp corners particularly if your planning on penetrating the wreck. Even if your not a fan of sunken metal things, the cockpit of the plane is a sight well worth taking in. The buttons, knobs, and levers found where the pilot seats use to be are a surreal spectacle.
Based on the dive shops suggestion, we decided to end the dive at the Crushing Works.
The Crushing Works is a one-stop crushing installation. This super-cool 2-story high metallic structure was designed to crush boulders into rocks, gravel or rock dust.
As we approached the Crushing Works, it towered out of the lakes goblin green water. Rising from the depths of 22 meters (72 feet) and carved out of the quarry wall, this box of metal crisscrossing geometrically, was by far the most impressive formation in Vobster. It had a spooky appeal to it that is certainly not for the faint-hearted!
Staying shallow, because we were at the tail end of our dive, we weaved in and around the lattice frame of the Crushing Works. Joey loved playing with his buoyancy to see if he could make it through the diamond openings without banging into the sides. I, on the other hand, loved floating in the mouth of the machine taking photographs. The massive industrial structure provided some exquisite picture opportunities.
Before we entered the water, Vobster claimed that the Crushing Works was the best attraction of the quay, and after finishing up our dive, I completely agree. I could have spent a dive alone photographing that single spot.
From the submerged Crushing Works structure to the green colored water, Vobster Quay was definitely a step out of the ordinary for our diving regime.
We loved the friendly and helpful staff (and divers) that greeted us from the moment we arrived in the Vobster Quay parking lot. They gave us a detailed run down of the site to ensure that we had everything we could possible need to make our diving day a success.
We also really liked the different sunken attractions this quay had. Instead of just having an airplane, a chopper and more of the regular stuff, this quay had a trailer, a wheelhouses and my personal favorite the Crushing Works.
But in spite of everything we loved, what I think took home the trophy for us was the Vobster Quay integrated bracelet/payment system. As soon as you checked in at the main office, each diver was issued a numbered bracelet. In addition to permitting you to dive the site, this numbered bracelet also acted as a sort of credit card, allowing you to purchase things during your dive day without needing to constantly hunt out your wallet. Air fills, snacks at the food truck – you simply had to show them your number, they would keep a record, and you could pay your bill at the end of the day. It really made the dive day run smoothly.
My first thoughts regarding inland diving in the UK conjured up visions of dark, murky lakes with no bottom and slim to none visibility.
However, after trying my hand at inland diving, both in Chepstow and at Vobster, I came to realize that Britain is actually home to some of the most interesting freshwater diving spots in Europe. From limestone quarries with sunken airplanes to emerald-tinted quays peppered with fish, the UK is home to dozens of unique scuba diving sites. You’ve just got to know where to find them.
Scuba diving in England is not a cheap hobby. At Vobster divers pay £21 per person for entry to the quay alone. Tank rental for a standard 12 L cylinder is £7 plus the air (£5.10) or nitrox (£9.50) fill. This does not include a weight belt which is an additional £6.50.
All other pieces of scuba diving equipment can be rented individually or in a package deal and you are encouraged to check out the Vobster Equipment Rental page for more details
Thinking of going inland diving at Vobster? The quay is open every day of the week in the summer, fall, winter, and spring. Please check their website for hours of operation as they change per season.
Vobster Quay is a year-round nice place to dive with visibility being the best in the winter and spring months before the heat and plankton blooms set in. While it is advisable to wear a drysuit all year round due to colder water and thermocline, winter is by far the coldest time to dive in terms of air and water temperature.
Vobster Quay divers are required to present their scuba diving certification at the front office upon arrival. They will then be issued a wrist band giving them access to the site for the duration of the day.
The diving at Vobster is done without guidance at your own leisure. Because you are your own dive guide make sure to recognize your limitations and dive within them.
Vobster quay is a privately owned piece of land and divers are required to pay an entrance fee for scuba diving at this site. Vobster houses its own shop, fill station and food truck so that you will want for nothing during your visit.
I never would have imagined but inland diving in the UK is a pretty big thing. Have you tried it? What is your favorite freshwater dive site?
Writers Note: Thank you to Vobster Quay for opening their center up to us and proving how sensational freshwater diving can be. Thanks as well for the dive sitemap which will help new divers find their way around the site.
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